An oppressive sense of wretchedness accompanied both the flight of dozens of Fatah members from Gaza and their subsequent treatment. Surprised Israeli officials operated according to the customary norms of humiliation - make the refugees strip, photograph them in their underwear and disseminate the pictures - and only then discussed what to do with them.
For three days, they went back and forth, until in the end, the Fatah members were sent to Jericho. However, so that no one could accuse them of missing an opportunity, they arrested more than a dozen. The flip-flops were blamed - how convenient! - on Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen), who kept changing his mind over and over. Suddenly, it was worthwhile and important to coordinate with the Palestinian Authority.
The PA was exposed in all its wretchedness: Members of the Dahlan clans, who fled under similar circumstances a year ago, did not want members of the Hilles clan, and they convinced PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad that the whole business would prove too costly. After all, according to the precedent that they themselves set, every person who escaped from Gaza would receive a grant of $350 a month, in addition to a salary and a rent allowance.
PA officials tried to paper over this stinginess on the part of people who are unabashedly embezzling hundreds of millions of dollars of humanitarian aid by bandying such false slogans as "should we leave Gaza to Hamas?"
The overarching national consideration - which, supported by international agreements, views the West Bank and the Gaza Strip as one indivisible territory, so that free passage between them is an absolute right - does not guide the leadership in Ramallah. On the contrary: It is pleased Israel is preventing the West Bank from being flooded by Gaza residents. The leadership prefers that the Gazans to remain there. "What, should all the residents leave?" one PA official asked cynically.
The PA's bankruptcy, the loss of all sense of shame among those who presume to lead the Palestinian national movement, distresses and outrages Palestinians who understand the severance of Gaza from the West Bank is not a temporary matter limited to the enmity between Hamas and Fatah, but has practically become a quasi-permanent fact, which will have a long-term impact on the fate of the Palestinian nation. Hamas' definitive takeover of all the centers of power in Gaza and the indirect legitimation it receives from its contacts with Egypt (and, via Egypt, with Israel), are consolidating its rule. In the absence of any chance for change in the process of separating Gaza from the West Bank, two different, mutually hostile regimes are being established.
Palestinians do not hide their criticism of their leaders' weakness, but they also stress that Israel can credit itself with an achievement: Another stage in the process of causing the Palestinian nation to disintegrate has been completed. One and a half million Gaza residents have set out on a road that will, in the not-so-distant future, lead them to establish a caricature of a Palestinian state on some 1.5 percent of the territory of historical Palestine, which will be inhabited by 30 percent of all the Palestinians now living in their homeland.
Granted, Israelis continue to discuss the possibility of a large-scale military operation that would reconquer the Strip, and settlers evacuated from Gush Katif are organizing for a "return home." But the reality that has been created serves Israel's interests.
Therefore, Israelis will continue to warn about Hamas' growing military might, they will insist on boycotting it, they will scrupulously maintain the cease-fire - and they will hope that the status quo that has been created is preserved.
Three years after the disengagement from Gaza, Ariel Sharon should have been celebrating his victory: He came very close to achieving his goal of unilaterally eliminating the Arab demographic threat. Sharon was a junior partner in removing the demographic threat in 1948, via the expulsion of hundreds of thousands of Arabs. Later, as he climbed up the governmental ladder, his desire to set decisive historical processes in motion only grew. His "grand plan," which led to the First Lebanon War, sought to solve the demographic problem by turning Jordan into Palestine.
After this plan failed, Sharon drew his cantonization map and sought to implement it in every post he filled. For many years, he was obliged to use serpentine tactics, but he never tired; he filled the territories with settlements and outposts. His election as prime minister enabled him to advance his plan "to eliminate the demographic threat" via the disengagement from Gaza.
Sharon did not have the privilege of seeing how his plan worked out, or how foolish both the lamentations of the right over the destruction of Zionism and the rejoicing of the left, which saw the disengagement as proof that the settlements and the occupation are reversible, proved to be. That picture of Gaza residents in their underwear exposed not only their nakedness, but the nakedness of the reality in Gaza.